In the Greek Orthodox church, the three main clerical officers -- bishops, priests and deacons -- are ordained through the sacrament called Holy Orders. These clergy members represent Christ's presence with his people. The Church also teaches that the clergy is exclusively male and receives its authority from the Apostles of the New Testament. Clergy members are directly or indirectly responsible to teach, administer sacraments and perform administrative duties in the Church and local parishes.
Orthodoxy teaches that the first leaders of the Church were Jesus' twelve apostles, as referenced in St. Luke 6:13: “And when it was day, He called unto Him his disciples: and of them He chose twelve, whom also He named apostles.” The Church also believes Jesus taught the mysteries of the faith to the apostles in the 40 days after he was raised from the dead. According to Church teaching, the apostles could ordain their own successors, in the same way Christ had promised to send the Holy Spirit to the apostles to remain with them until the end of the world. Apostolic succession permits the Church to continue from one generation to the next.
The Greek Orthodox Church teaches that because bishops are successors to the apostles charged to maintain the unity and truth of the Orthodox faith, they have the authority to ordain deacons, priests and other bishops. The word bishop, episkopos in Greek, means overseer; accordingly, bishops are in charge of a geographical area known as a diocese. The bishop over the national church holds the title of patriarch. Bishops are servants and are not considered to be infallible; they are required to be either a widower or unmarried.
Orthodox priests, also called pastors or presbyters, are ordained Church officials who are in charge of the daily management of local parishes. The priests teach and preach in the local parish; they also administer sacraments such as communion and baptism. The Orthodox Church believes priests have administrative duties, as stated in 1 Peter 5: 1-2: “So I exhort the presbyters among you, as a fellow presbyter and witness to the sufferings of Christ and one who has a share in the glory to be revealed. Tend the flock of God in your midst, [overseeing] not by constraint but willingly, as God would have it, not for shameful profit but eagerly. ” Priests can marry, as long as it is the first marriage for him and his wife.
Bishops ordain deacons for service in the Orthodox church. Deacons assist pastors and bishops in administering the sacraments but do not independently administer the sacraments. Deacons assist in the celebration of the liturgy and at other church services. Deacons are often chosen from among local parishioners and, in present-day Orthodoxy, engage in hospital visitation, form youth groups, lead educational ministries and carry out missionary work. Deacons can marry, but like Orthodox priests, the marriage must be the first for both persons.
- Orthodox Church in America: Volume II - Worship, The Sacraments, Holy Orders
- Orthodox Research Institute: What is a Bishop, Priest, Deacon?
- Patheos Library: Religion Library, Eastern Orthodoxy, Leadership
- Patheos Library: Religion Library, Eastern Orthodoxy, Rites and Ceremonies
- Bible Hub: Luke 6:13
- United States Conference of Catholic Bishops: 1 Peter, Chapter 5
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